A colleague said this to me at the end of a busy day last week. Knowing that this is a very popular phrase, I thought that I’d look up its origin on the way home. After scribbling down some notes, it gave me an idea for today’s post. The term time flies is “used to mean that time passes very and surprisingly quickly”, according to the online Cambridge dictionary.
Phrases.org.uk‘s bulletin board doesn’t have the origin for time flies when you are having fun, but the proverb time flies can be “traced back in English to 1386 in Chaucer’s ‘Prologue to the Clerk’s Tale.’ The earliest American appearance in print is 1710 in ‘Mayflower Descendant'”.
In a BBC.co.uk health article called ‘Why having fun makes time speed’, they explain how scientists have come up with a theory of how time goes quickly when you are doing something you like doing and goes slow when you are bored. The theory is that “patterns of activity in the brain change depending on how we focus on a task”. Scans show that if we are using our brains to concentrate on lots of aspects of something then “it has to spread its resources thinly, and pays less heed to time passing”. On the other hand if you are bored then you might concentrate on the “passing of time” instead.
Interesting article…and definitely worth a read. I can’t say that I’ve ever been bored, I’m too busy for that, but I’m not necessarily always having fun! Maybe even in times of doing something uninteresting, the concept is to focus on all aspects of it and then the brain won’t have time to focus on the ‘passing of time’ and you’ll then get to the more exciting tasks quicker.
I suppose the reverse is also true in that if you are in the middle of something you enjoy, it might be a good idea to stop focusing on all aspects of it for a while to slow things down a bit.
According to the The Free Dictionary, ‘time files when you are having fun’ is also used in a sarcastic way when you are not really enjoying something e.g. “It took me five hours to clean the house from top to bottom today – time flies when you are having fun!”.
Do you use this phrase a lot?
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